24 April 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

BeIN urges Premier League to block Saudi’s Newcastle takeover

Qatari broadcaster  beIN Media wants the Premier League to block the mooted takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, citing piracy concerns.

Qatar has long-held grievances with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s alleged support and financing of pirate broadcaster beoutQ, accused of stealing beIN Sports’ broadcasts and illegally streaming them across the Middle East.

According to the Qatari government and beIN, beoutQ is a Saudi state-backed operation based in Riyadh, and which is distributed via a Saudi-based satellite operator.

News that the Saudi state investment fund is to lead a consortium in acquiring an 80% stake of Premier League club Newcastle has reignited the issue.

In a letter to Premier League executives, beIN Media CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly said: “Not only has the potential acquirer of Newcastle United caused huge damage to your club’s and the Premier League’s commercial revenues; but the legacy of the illegal service will continue to impact you going forward.”

Al-Obaidly, who sits on the board of Qatari-owned French club  Paris Saint-Germain, has been indicted in France on bribery charges related to the bidding process for the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Al-Obaidly has denied any wrongdoing.

He took over as CEO of beIN Media in November 2018. The group’s sports division holds exclusive broadcasting rights across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for major European sports events including football leagues like the Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga, as well as the Wimbledon tennis championships.

The beoutQ operation has gained notoriety for its seemingly blatant piracy of beIN’s sports coverage, often featuring the Qatari broadcaster’s logo simply replaced with that of beoutQ.

BeIN wants the Premier League, as part of its regulatory checks on prospective club owners, to factor in Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in sports piracy into its review of the takeover.

BeoutQ arose in 2017 after beIN was banned across much of the Middle East, as part of a Saudi-led  diplomatic blockade against Qatar.

The dispute has made it as far as the World Trade Organisation, while Qatar and groups like  UEFA, the European football authority, have lobbied for Saudi Arabia to be placed on the  US trade representative’s IP blacklist.

Qatar claims that beoutQ is powered by Arabsat, a regional satellite operator based in Saudi Arabia, which is also its biggest shareholder. These claims have also been endorsed by sports copyright owners including UEFA, but  rejected by Arabsat and Saudi Arabia.

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